On The Shelf: London Villages

In London Villages: Explore the City’s Best Local Neighbourhoods author Zena Alkayat breaks down London’s current sprawl into 30 villages and introduces readers to each via a short description, maps, photos and five highlighted places of interest in each neighborhood. These are further broken down into areas of the City: central, north, south, east and west.  All of the usual suspects make an appearance: Shepherd Market, Camden Passage, Queen’s Park, Little Venice. What truly sets Alkayat’s guide apart are the newly evolved villages introduced to the reader, some of which are still works in progress, and her discovery of overlooked gems in well loved areas.

Zayat’s chatty tone allows the reader to feel as though they are getting inside information from a local, with all the “need to know” details thrown in for good measure. Here’s Zayat’s take on Turnham Green (near Chiswick Common): “Though situated a little north of Chiswick’s main attractions, Turnham Green has established itself as the commercial heart of the area. To the south runs an incredibly scenic stretch of the Thames dotted with rowing clubs and pubs for walkers. Inland, Palladian villa Chiswick House attracts vast numbers of tourists, as does Hogarth’s House . . . For Londoners, the rather upmarket Chiswick car boot sale operates on the first Sunday of every month from the school on Burlington Lane, and the area’s centuries-old brewing heritage means there are plenty of historic pubs to enjoy. Frustratingly, there’s little to get excited about along Chiswick High Road itself, dwarfed as it is by standard high street restaurants and chains but offshoots Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road lay claim to a stronghold of independent retailers. On Turnham Green Terrace, a number of delis have made the street a destination for fans of fine food, and Foubert’s Café (a local institution since 1980) is famous for its Italian ice cream. Devonshire Road, meanwhile, offers clothes boutiques, gift shops and the ramshackle Strand Antiques at number 46.” One of the five highlighted places of interest chosen by Alkayat includes Fosters’ Bookshop on the High Road: “The Foster family has run this tightly packed antiquarian store since 1968 and continues to acquire and sell a choice selection of rare books and first editions, together with volumes of local history and more general Penguin paperbacks and illustrated children’s novels.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to head to Turnham Green some first Sunday soon.

Other places I’m looking forward to visiting thanks to Alkayat include:

The Prince Alfred & Formosa Dining Room (Little Venice): “The Prince Alfred’s original snug rooms, snob screens and decorative tiles make it one of the best examples of a late Victorian pub in London. The ornate bar is adjoined to the intimate Formosa Dining Room, which enjoys repeated recommendations in Michelin’s Eating out in Pubs guide.”

Jane Bourvis (Golborne Road): “Walking into this vintage bridal shop feels like wandering to Miss Haversham’s dressing room. Dozens of antique lace dresses hang from the ceiling, corsets weigh down rails, and every available surface is topped with trinkets, strings of pearls and wind-up music boxes.”

Cannon & Cannon (Brixton Road): “Cannon & Cannon can sort cheese and charcuterie board dilemmas with minimal fuss. Its selection of British cured meat (sourced from as close as Kent and as far as the Scottish Highlands) is matched by a stellar range of artisan cheese. Pair with the deli’s chutneys and pickles and wash down with pale ale from Bermondsey’s Kernel Brewery.”

Virginia (Clarendon Cross): “Clarendon Cross’s concentration of eccentrics and artists may be thinning these days, but long serving establishments such as Virginia keep the area’s unconventional personality alive. Virginia Bates opened up shop in 1971 and is renowned in the upper echelons of the fashion industry for her incredible collection of antique apparel from the 1850s to the 1930s.”

London Villages should be on every Anglophile’s shelf. For visitors to the City, it will be indispensable when either planning your next trip or in order to learn more about the history of London. For locals, London Villages will no doubt keep that age old question, “What should we do this weekend?” at bay for months to come.

London Villages by Zena Alkayat with photographs by Kim Lightbody
 and illustrated maps by Jenny Seddon is published by Frances Lincoln
 in paperback, £9.99. 192 pages, ISBN 9780711234666

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